What Diabetic Retinopathy Really Means
Diabetic retinopathy refers to a group of eye diseases that affect people with diabetes. If not taken care, they can lead to blindness. Diabetic retinopathy affects the blood vessels in the retina.
What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes to the blood vessels of the retina. Hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) causes blood vessels to leak, swell, and harden, which then tears and scars the retina.
It is the most common cause of vision loss in people with diabetes. Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not properly use or produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body convert sugar into energy. When the body does not produce enough insulin, sugar builds up in the blood. This causes high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).
High blood sugar damages the small blood vessels in the eyes. These blood vessels are called retinal blood vessels. Retinal blood vessels supply oxygen and nutrients to the retina. The retina is a light-sensitive part of the eye. It is the part of the eye that detects light and makes images.
Leaking blood vessels cause swelling and damage to the retina. In this case, the person may experience blurred vision or sudden vision loss. If the retina is damaged, it can affect the person’s ability to see clearly.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?
The following are the signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy:
· Flashes or floaters in the vision
· Dark or blurry vision
· Seeing images that are not there (called a phantom image)
· Seeing halos around lights
· Sudden loss of vision If you have any of these symptoms, see an eye doctor right away.
What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetes can cause damage to small blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels are called retinal blood vessels. When blood sugar levels are high, they can damage retinal blood vessels, causing them to leak.
This causes swelling and scarring in the retina. This can lead to vision problems, such as blurred or no vision at all. Depending on the stage and amount of damage to the eye, the symptoms vary.
Asymptomatic retinopathy is the early stage of diabetic retinopathy. This is the most common type of diabetic retinopathy. Asymptomatic retinopathy is often discovered when a person has a dilated eye exam for another reason. Asymptomatic retinopathy usually does not cause symptoms. It can be detected by an eye exam.
Symptomatic retinopathy is the late stage of diabetic retinopathy. Symptoms include blurred vision, sudden vision loss, eye pain due to secondary glaucoma.
How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosed?
Diabetic retinopathy is usually diagnosed during a dilated eye exam. The doctor will examine the eyes with a special light and a camera. The doctor may also take a blood sample to check the person’s blood sugar level.
When Should I See My Eye Doctor?
People with diabetes should have a dilated eye exam every year. This exam includes a visual acuity test, and a dilated eye exam. A dilated eye exam is done by placing drops in the eyes to make it easy to visualize the retina. A dilated eye exam can detect retinopathy before symptoms appear.
Early detection can help prevent vision loss. If you have diabetes, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history.
What Does a Person With Diabetic Retinopathy See?
In asymptomatic retinopathy, a person with diabetes might see colorful flashes or floaters in their eyes. A phantom image and a black dot might appear in the middle of the screen during some vision tests. In early diabetic retinopathy, people may have some blurry vision.
As the disease progresses, they may have blurred vision at night or difficulty focusing at work or school. If you have blurry vision and cannot see clearly, you should see your doctor right away to check for diabetic retinopathy.
What Are the Warning Signs of Diabetes Related Eye Problems?
Here are some signs which should alert you and get an eye examination scheduled as soon as possible:
- Blurry vision which you did not have a few hours ago or a day ago
- Sudden diminution or loss of vision
- Floaters or flashes in the vision
Can Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy Be Asymptomatic?
Yes. Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is most often diagnosed at a young age. Many people with this form of diabetes never develop symptoms until later in life.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy can occur at any age, and it may be asymptomatic for years before causing vision problems. Early detection and treatment can help prevent blindness in people with proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
Can Diabetic Retinopathy Go Away?
Diabetic retinopathy can go away completely sometimes. However, most of the time, it will not completely heal without treatment. Damage to the blood vessels cannot be reversed once it has occurred. However, with treatment, you may prevent further damage to your eyes and keep your vision from getting worse.
Can Diabetic Retinopathy Cause Blindness?
Yes. Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness. More than half the people with diabetes do not have their vision checked on a regular basis. 10% of people with diabetes have some existing damage to their retina. About 15% of them have moderate damage and 2% have severe damage.
Who are at Risk of Developing Diabetic Retinopathy?
People who are at high risk for developing diabetic retinopathy include those who:
- Have had diabetes for at least 5 years
- Are over age 40
- Have a family history of diabetes
- Have poor blood glucose control
- Have poor blood pressure control
- Have kidney disease
- Have other eye diseases or conditions that increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy
- Are African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or Pacific Islander
How Can I Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy?
The best way to prevent diabetic retinopathy is to maintain good blood sugar control. If you have diabetes, you should follow the instructions on your diabetes medication and make sure you take it as prescribed. Your doctor may also recommend other treatments to help control your blood sugar.
How Does Diabetic Retinopathy Affect Daily Life?
Diabetic retinopathy may cause some of the following problems:
1. Blurred vision – the most common symptom of diabetic retinopathy. You many not be able to read well or find it difficult to do your routine work.
2. Floaters in the field of vision – small spots or specks that seem to move around the field of vision, especially when looking up or in bright light.
3. Flashes – called photopsia are quite annoying and may induce anxiety
4. Cloudy vision may be caused by large floaters or early cataract
5. Difficulty seeing at night may lead to falls and accidents
What Is the Difference Between Diabetic Retinopathy and Macular Degeneration?
Diabetic retinopathy is a disease that affects the retina and is a direct effect of vascular damage caused by diabetes. Macular degeneration is an age-related disease that affects the macula, the part of the retina that allows you to see fine details. Diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration are two different conditions, but they can both cause blurred vision. They are also both very serious diseases.
Now you know diabetic retinopathy is a long-term complication of uncontrolled diabetes. If you have diabetes, it is important that you keep your blood sugar under control. This will help prevent the development of diabetic retinopathy.